WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — US President Donald Trump will prolong a ban on US employment permits to year-end and broaden it to include H1-B visas used widely in the tech industry, the White House said Monday.

A senior administration official told journalists that the move would free up 525,000 jobs, making a dent in the high unemployment rate caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“President Trump is focused on getting Americans back to work as quickly as possible,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

Trump had endlessly touted a strong economy, but now finds himself desperate for a political boost ahead of the November election.

An executive order, expected later Monday, will extend and widen the 60-day freeze Trump placed on new work permits for non-US citizens two months ago.

The ban on new visas applies to H-1B visas, which are widely used by major American and Indian technology company workers and their families, H-2B visas for nonagricultural seasonal workers, J-1 visas for cultural exchanges and L-1 visas for managers and other key employees of multinational corporations.

There will be exemptions for food processing workers, which make up about 15 per cent of H-2B visas.

The official said the order was necessary to respond to soaring unemployment that resulted from the COVID-19 shutdown.

The official stressed the H1-B visa freeze was temporary while the program is restructured, from an annual lottery that feeds coders and other specialists to Silicon Valley, to a system the gives priority to those foreign workers with the most value.

Trump “is going to prioritize those workers who are offered the highest wages,” as an indicator that they can add more value to the US economy, the official said. 

“It will eliminate competition with Americans… in these industries at the entry level, and will do more to get the best and the brightest.”